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Joueur de handball en train de tirer en extension.

Handball was first played towards the end of the 19th century in Scandinavia and Germany, where field handball was also gaining recognition as a sport. G. Wallström introduced the sport to Sweden in 1910. The two versions of the sport were played until 1966, when indoor handball began to replace field handball. 

Brief overview of the rules

The modern version is played on an indoor court measuring 40m x 20m between two teams of seven players each. Players can take up to three steps without dribbling and are allowed to hold the ball for a maximum of three seconds. The team with the most goals at the end of the two 30-minute halves wins. Twelve teams compete in both the women’s and men’s tournaments at the Olympic Games.

Handball is a contact sport in which attackers and defenders are permitted to make body contact with an opponent, making it a very physical and demanding sport for the players involved. Offensive strategies are even encouraged, as passive play is illegal. Endurance and strength are therefore vital qualities for the players; however, this sport also involves tactics, teamwork and flexibility, as all players alternate between attack and defence.

Olympic history

Field handball made its Olympic debut at the Berlin 1936 Games and was played as a demonstration sport at the Helsinki 1952 Games. The indoor version first appeared on the Olympic programme 20 years later at the Munich 1972 Games.

The first women’s competition was held four years later at the Montreal 1976 Games. European countries dominate this sport. Apart from when South Korea picked up two medals at the Seoul 1988 Games and one in the women’s event at the Barcelona 1992 Games, all Olympic handball medals have been won by a European country.

Events in 2024

  • Handball tournament (women’s / men’s)

Venue in 2024

Lille Stadium

International organisation

International federation : International Handball Federation

© Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images